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One of the first times photographer James Startt recalls seeing Lance Armstrong was during the 1992 Olympic trials as the two rounded a corner together. Startt, an avid cyclist, says he only came close to Armstrong once during the tryouts.
He wasn't as fast as Armstrong, but he made a career out of chasing him — and other legendary cyclists — every July during the Tour de France. For almost three decades, Startt has been photographing cyclists as they race by, and documenting the mood of the Tour itself.
"All of the local people come out ... and just wait for the Tour to go by," he says, "and it's a wonderful moment." He's referring to the first week of the race, when the cyclists compete on mostly flat ground in northern France. "It's become my favorite time of the Tour."
These "pastoral shots," as Startt describes them, along with raw moments along the course, are being featured in a special iPad collection by Bicycling magazine. Startt's work also gives a glimpse into how sports photographers get their shots — whether it's riding alongside in a car or, as Startt prefers, staking out a spot and waiting.
"I have to be able to run, which gets harder with the years," he says, laughing.
Startt, who has been covering the Tour since 1990, compares his photography to street art. Given the frenetic pace of the race, he says, he just grabs as much as possible, capturing raw emotions as competitors cross the finish line.
"It's very improvised and edgy and imperfect in the best sense of the word," he says. "Most of the day, they have their helmets on, their glasses on, and then, at the end of the day, that comes off and all of the emotions sort of come out."
Startt, who cycles regularly himself, says it's the constant rush through the open streets and hills of France that keeps him coming back.
The 99th Tour de France ends July 22.